Dealing with the day-to-day

Jedd asked whether some of our blogging couldn’t focus on more day-to-day challenges. I’m sympathetic to his request. It made me think of my own experience, a time when I could have used advice.

Janice and I were living overseas for a year’s research leave. A little while after moving into our ward I was called to be the high priest group leader. No one could have been more surprised than I, especially when I found out that for a while I would be the only Melchizedek priesthood leader in the ward. The elders quorum president had been released and a new one had yet to be called. I could think of many reasons I shouldn’t have been the group leader, my poor non-church French and the fact that I knew almost no one in the ward being at the top of the list. But the counselor in the stake presidency was insistent, and I took the job. Within a few weeks I went to the bishop and told him that I felt strongly that this was a mistake: “I don’t think I can really do anything that needs to be done,” I said. Since I hadn’t been able to do any of the things he had assigned me, I was not exaggerating. The bishop showed me a list of the high priests in the ward and the positions they held. I was the only one who didn’t have a calling when they needed a high priest group leader, and there was no likely candidate to replace me. “You point out the person whom I should recommend and I’ll do it,” he said. I went back to trying to figure out how to do the job.

A month or so later, a new elders quorum president was appointed and my job got a lot easier. After that it consisted primarily of attending weekly priesthood executive council meetings and occasionally limping my way along as the one conducting in priesthood opening exercises. However, one of the first things I had to do was help train the new president, which was relatively easy because he spoke English and was both bright and organized. But one of the things we had to do was figure out home teaching. When I saw the lists of possible home teachers and of those needing to be home taught, I was stunned. It wasn’t just psychologically impossible, it was actually impossible. There were far too many members for twenty or so teachers to visit, even if we ignored the fact that because of the distances and the need to use public transportation, most visits require two hours or more per visit.

We prayed and we went to the bishop with our plan: triage. We would decide who could survive without home teaching and who probably wouldn’t respond to home teaching and simply eliminate them from the plan. We would not assign home teachers to them, but we would communicate with them monthly via a letter from the bishop. Then we would focus our efforts on those for whom it was clear that home teaching could make a difference. It sounded to me like heresy, but it seemed like the only possibility. If we had given an elder twenty names and a recently-baptized new member as a home-teaching companion and said “Together visit each of the people on this list once a month,” failure was certain. It would have been built into the plan. The bishop agreed and we went forward knowing full well that the best we could do with our plan was perhaps visit twenty percent of the families in the ward.

My experience isn’t a model for anyone else. But I learned from that experience that it is possible to plan for radically different results from those given to us as goals or guidelines and not only to feel good about those results, but to feel that the results we intend are acceptable to the Lord.

Does anyone else have experiences or suggestions that bear on the question of how to respond to particular “ordinary” problems of life in the Church?

11 comments for “Dealing with the day-to-day

  1. Man, I remember those first weeks with you at the helm. What fun! You did pretty well for yourself, all things considered, but had a few “deer in the headlights” moments. Although some of those moments were pretty miserable, I have nothing but fond recollections of those struggles. The opiate effect of memory is really strange.

    Triage is an appropriate term for what went on. Often in the Church there are, theoretically, better people out there somewhere to do our jobs, but we make do with what’s at hand. The Lord understands, I’m sure, our human limitations and appreciates it when we put in our best. I’m glad that our religion isn’t strictly “results oriented”.

  2. Apparently, judging from the number of posts thus far, dealing with the day-to-day is not something that T&Sers find particularly involving… but to be fair, can we fairly label your experience as “day-to-day”? That was an extreme example of being thrown into a chaotic situation, like M*A*S*H set in a French ward.

    Jedd hints that if we brought our collective psyches to bear on more typical problems like home teaching or, say, inactivity, much could be accomplished. I don’t think that’s necessarily so. IMHO, thinking doesn’t accomplish much in this church. The burdens of membership are largely bourne by those who roll up their sleeves and go do their home teaching. Our intellectualism (to copy a term currently used a lot on another thread) doesn’t always/often translate into an increased ability to get the work done. Could we come up with some alternative home teaching system that might result in greater efficiencies? Maybe. But I think that the fundamental characteristic here is willingness to do the work. There’s no real substitute.

    Take wards in Manhattan as an example (Greg can back up the stats from his own experience): a dense concentration of highly intelligent people, but below-average home teaching and mediocre activity rates. Some of the greatest minds in the Church are also some of the laziest.

    On a side note, regarding Jedd’s suggestion that we figure out a way to escape endless committees: that’s a problem that might be solved by some theorizing and postulating, so perhaps T&S can accomplish something. My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church.

  3. OK–here’s my big day-to-day. In every Church class that I have ever taught on a regular basis, there is always one (sometimes two) people in the room who make frequent, long-winded, and boring comments. I have no idea on how to reign in these people; you can occasionally avoid ‘seeing’ their hand go up, but that doesn’t always work. I don’t feel that it is appropriate to interrupt, although I have been known to wait for the slightest pause in a comment to respond. Ideas?

  4. if by day-to-day you mean fulfilling and executing on church callings, I think your triage example is an excellent one, focusing on actually producing benefits for someone in a meaningful way.

    To give a little credit to Manhattan home teachers, when I was a singles ward clerk, we created a temporary “extreme home teaching” project to keep the membership rolls accurate and to reconnect with long-lost members. It was an a calling designed around people’s schedules, that someone working investment banker’s hours could do via phones, email, and the web as time permitted.
    It increased the service level of several severely time-constrained people; it added people to the HT roster, and it got membership records into a more realistic, useful state.

  5. Jim – thanks for a good example of how creative thinking (coupled with inspiration, I’m sure) helped make a mountain of a task more surmountable.

    Steve – I guess my admittedly idealistic thought is that someone out there has solved some of the perennial “day-to-day” challenges we face as a church. A few small-time examples: our elders quorum has virtually eliminated the problem of too few volunteers to fill church service assignments by doing the (embarrassingly) obvious—stop the silliness of asking for volunteers and simply make assignments. Or how about the real frustration caused by showing up to help someone move and finding they have nothing packed? We developed a brief moving checklist that we now give in advance to families who require assistance. It took a while to catch on, but word has spread that you *will* be ready to move when the elders quorum shows up to help.

    But with something more important like home teaching, we’re falling short. Actually, our whole stake is falling short, the stake president isn’t happy, and neither am I. Families who need our support and friendship aren’t getting it. I’ve been thinking about how to do it better for years, trying different tactics, praying for inspiration, etc. I’d love to know what the ward with 95% of families visited (in sustainable fashion) is doing that we’re not. That’s all.

    In the end, Steve, I think you are right—solutions are more likely to be found in the “doing” rather than in the “thinking”, and perhaps our ward’s solution to a given problem is not easily transferable to yours. Like Alma, I sometimes wish I could employ the highly effective “earth shaking” motivational technique, “. . .but I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things the Lord hath allotted unto me.” I think it was Nibley who said that we often want to use the proverbial “answer book” to solve our problems, when in fact there are no shortcuts to the solution.

  6. Jedd,

    Thanks for the examples — you’ve shown me that thinking about Church problems can actually help. I guess I was too harsh in my condemnation of intellectuals. To tell you the truth, I feel humbled by your approach, which seems to be that of prayer, effort, and creative thinking. I commend you for it.

    I don’t think there’s a magic answer to HT. I wish there were. What I might suggest would be to approach the problem more in the way that the Relief Society seems to deal with Visiting Teaching — i.e., lower the standard of what constitutes a “visit”. I’m not suggesting that you artificially boost your numbers, but perhaps approach HT from the perspective that ANY contact is better than none at all. Once members begin to seek day-to-day contact with each other in one form or another, the transition to a full-blown visit may become a little easier. It won’t immediately improve your statistics, but at least more people will remain in touch with the ward family.

  7. Our ward is currently in the midst of the third (fourth?) home-teaching revival since I moved in, going on three years ago. The revivals involve a lot of pep talks and browbeating by Elders Quorum presidency members (different members, though I’ve been in the presidency for all three revivals, and I can probably give a home-teaching pep talk from memory).

    None of the revivals have been particularly successful. They have resulted in a lot of creative accounting for a few months. (“I ran into Logan in the hall at church and we talked about basketball, that’s a visit . . .”).

    Maybe I need to talk Steve into moving to the Bronx.

  8. Hey Kaimi,

    You know I’m all about the stats, man, but no way I’m going up to your neck of the woods.

    I wasn’t trying to imply that we do away with the old notion of a visit. Instead, I was suggesting that we encourage contact of any kind, just out of a desperation to keep people involved on some level. In other words, to keep focused on the purpose of HT and encourage members to reach out to each other any way they can.

  9. I’m trying to keep in mind with what Home Teaching means to me. I would rather have lower numbers in terms of visits but have each visit be far more meaningful.
    I’ve also tried reitterating to the quorum that if the currently active members put forth the effort with some of the less active members who want to be more active, that will create a bigger pool of active members. Essentially we can lessen the load by getting more people involved.
    Believe me people are pretty excited at the thought of loosing one or two of the families from thier list to make it more managable.

  10. Well, to chime in from the RS visiting teaching isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. We have the writing roll. All those people who don’t want to be visited so we send them a note instead. Then there are those who have been with the same VT for 25 – 30 years. Easy for them. Then there is visit, contact, no contact. A lot of sisters get away with the “contact” section because they say “hi” at church and “how’s the homefront?”

    In Austin, when we were there, we had a quarterly requirement. 2 contacts and then a required visit quarterly. This worked great for me. Of course there were those time when two or more visits were required but mostly the 1-2 apporach worked well and numbers were high.

    I am a good member of the church. I have a real weakness in the VT department. The TX way of VT worked so well for me I am still in the habit now. I do not visit every month, I get there once a quarter then phone and check up on them the other months. I know it is not acceptable in our area but that’s as good as it gets right now. I am trying hard not to let the guilt bury me. Ugh!

    Then there’s the other side of the coin. I have a hard time with finding an hour to sit and visit with my VT when she comes. I know after the hour it was a good thing to do . I just don’t look forward at all to setting aside the time.

  11. “I would rather have lower numbers in terms of visits but have each visit be far more meaningful.”

    But doesn’t the CHI say something to the effect of ‘a goal of less than 100% is never appropriate’? I think that one problem is that quantity/stats often get overemphasized, while quality/conversion is underemphasized. I don’t think that the CHI’s counsel automatically forces this to happen, but it seems to get interpreted in ways that lean in that direction all too often. Last year’s round of ‘home teaching revivals’ [appropriately descriptive term, BTW] certainly seemed to put more emphasis on the magic ‘100%’ than on anything that happened during the actual visit [and at BYU, since the EQP changes about every four months, HT revivals are sadly too common].

    One problem with moving too far in the direction of the VT model, I suspect, is the scriptural basis for HT as a priesthood responsibility.

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